278th Meeting – Tuesday, September 12th 2006

“How to Plant a Forest

A talk and presentation by Stephen Elliott

 Present: Richard Nelson-Jones, Ivan P. Hall, Tom Crichton, Simone Buys, Jim Campion, Michael Tuckson, Bonnie Brereton, Nancy Eberhardt, Richard Stewart, Hans Bänziger, James Powell, Ingelore Frank, Sjon Hauser, Richard Rhodes, Oliver Hargreave, Adrian Pieper, John Hobday, Reinhard Hohler, Piyawee Ruenjinda, Pracham Inthong, Phamtran Long, Thomas Ohlson, Jacques Op de Laak, Tony and Siripan Kidd. An audience of 25 +.

Stephen Elliott graduated in Ecology from Edinburgh University BSc and PhD 1985. After a brief spell on post doctoral projects on medicinal plants in Indonesia and Lowland Gorillas in Gabon, in 1986 he settled as a lecturer in ecology in the Biology Department at CMU, where he still is to this day. He teaches mostly tropical plant ecology, conservation biology and biomonitoring.

In 1994, with Dr. Vilaiwan Anusarnsunthorn, Stephen co-founded the Forest Restoration Research Unit to carry out research to determine the best way to restore natural forest ecosystems to degraded sites within protected areas for biodiversity conservation and environmental protection. The project has generated four books and numerous scientific papers in journals, and has been recognized by the Thailand Research Fund as amongst the top 15 science projects in the country. Stephen talk and presentation will be based on the latest book “How to Plant a Forest”, which has just been published in English, with a Thai edition coming soon to be followed by Khmer Lao Chinese and Vietnamese editions later in the year.

This is Steve’s summary of his presentation: 

The talk showed how it is possible to transform deforested, degraded sites in conservation areas into biodiversity-rich forest in 5-7 years, using the framework species method, which has been pioneered by the Forest Restoration Research Unit of CMU’s Biology Department (FORRU-CMU). It was based on the unit’s latest publication “How to Plant a Forest” available by emailing forru@science.cmu.ac.th or it can be downloaded (as PDF files) from www.forru.org.

Deforestation in the tropics remains the top cause of biodiversity loss on land, as well as a major cause of floods, droughts, landslides and rural poverty. In Thailand, natural forest cover has dropped from more than half the country in the early 1960’s to less than 20% today. This problem can be solved by “reforestation”, but this term covers a wide range of different approaches, such as plantation forestry, agro-forestry etc. Forest restoration means recreating the structure and functioning of the original forest ecosystem that was present before deforestation occurred. It is most suited to conservation areas, where biodiversity conservation is the top management priority. Forest restoration is necessary, because humans have destroyed the natural processes of forest regeneration by reducing seed sources and populations of large seed dispersing animals in landscapes, starting annual fires and introducing exotics weeds, which compete with tree seedlings.

The framework species concept method relies on planting 20-30 indigenous forest tree species which accelerate natural forest regeneration by shading out weeds and attracting seed-dispersing animals into planted sites. FORRU-CMU has screened more than 400 of Doi Suthep’s 680 tree species for their ability to act as framework species. Research in a tree nursery has concentrated on how to grow trees to a plantable size by the beginning of the rainy season. Experimental plots have been established in collaboration with the Hmong village of Mae Sa Mai on the northern slopes of Doi Suthep, where the performance of various “candidate” framework tree species is tested and the effects of different treatments to maximize tree performance are assessed. This has resulted in one of the best examples of “forest landscape restoration” (FLR) in the country, where the needs of local people and research are closely integrated.

A system has now been developed which enables canopy closure to occur within 2-3 years after planting trees. Many of the planted trees produce flowers or fruits which attract seed-dispersing birds. After 6 years, about two thirds of the original community of forest birds returns and small mammals such as Barking Deer, Hog Badger and civets take up residence. Up to 90 tree species have been recorded in the plots, more than 60 having been brought there as seeds by animals attracted to the planted trees or blown in by the wind.

Now FORRU is concentrating on educational projects to disseminate these successful techniques to anyone interested in restoring Thailand’s damaged forest ecosystems. Training events have been run for government officials, NGO’s, students and their teachers. Britain’s Eden Project is supporting tree nurseries in 12 communities in the north to see if the success achieved at Ban Mae Sa Mai can be widely replicated. The unit’s latest book “How to Plant a Forest” makes the results of more than a decade of scientific research available in a user friendly format. It is currently available in English and will come out in Thai next month. Lao, Khmer and Chinese editions will be printed next year, thanks to sponsorship from Britain’s Darwin Initiative.

After a deciduous question and answer session during which members of the audience pined for arboreal wisdom and were rewarded with seeds of knowledge dispersed on a light breeze, the meeting adjourned to the Alliance Cafeteria where Steve continued to germinate ideas with members of the audience.